In general, moderator should be “flexible, objective, empathic, persuasive, a good listener” (Fontana and Frey 2000, p. 652) In a ideal focus group, the moderator would just participate to put research topics. It is participants who must dominate the discussion. However, there are a number of situations where moderator should also participate.
1. To prevent single participants or small groups from dominating the discussion and encourage reserved members to become involved. You may use such sentences as “what do you think “participant´s name”?, “what do other people think about?“.
2. To reflat the discussion using provocative questions. Whenever the dicussion among participants seems not to be enough dynamic, it is the moderator who should formulate new debate-provoking questions.
3. To steering the discussion toward a deepening. Whenever research topics are covered superficially and with no further details, the moderator you formulate depth-provoking questions such as “what do you mean by…?”
Finally it is recommendable count with the support of an assistant. It allows moderator focus on managing the group and assistant to take notes.
1. How many groups are required? Organizing several groups enables trends and patterns to be identified when the data collected are analyzed (Saunders et al, 2003). The figure may vary according to the research questions and, above all, the different population subgroups required (Morgan, 1988). However, if after the fourth group you are receiving new information it means that you have reached saturation (Krueger and Casey, 2000). Actually four or five are generally enough.
2. How many participants each? Between 4 and 8 and exceptionally up to 12. It strongly depends on three factors: skill of moderator, nature of participants, how complex the topic is.
3. How long does it take each session? From one to two hours, although it may vary according to how actives participants are. Actually, it may finish once the group has exhausted the discussion of a topic. How to know when a topic is exhausted? There are no criteria and it is the moderator who has to make his/her own decisions.
4. How to recruit participants? Focus group sampling is non-probabilistic, i.e. it does not aim to do inference afterward but just select participants from the population subgroup under study, normally your target. For instance, students from 20 to 25 years old. The selection process is commonly called “recruitment”. The person in charge of select participants, so called “recruiter” shouldn´t play the role of moderator too. The recruitment should be done by mean dial previous participants or following snowball methodology, i.e. contacting people through social networks who will lead recruiter to more people and subsequently. It is strongly recommendable to work with strangers instead of groups of friends or people who know each other very well, because the level of things taken for granted may lead to leave relevant information out (Morgan, 1988). Finally, institutional networks should be avoided.
5. What is the most appropriate location for a focus group? Neutral setting is required. Avoid noisy and crowded places that may interrupt the discussion ongoing. It is recommendable avoid saturated spaces, i.e. with many objects and staff since it may break the concentration of participants. An oval table is required. It assures that all participants can see each other and facilitate interaction. Some market research agencies count with specialized rooms for focus group. They count with viewing room next door that allows other researchers and sponsor watch the focus group. However, most of the groups are recorded both voices and video.
What should a focus group composition be like? Which features participants should meet? The answer of these questions depends basicly on the population group under study and the aims of the research. However, a general rule should be followed. A certain homogeneity among participants is required. What does homogeneity mean? All members share something in common. It may be a common interest (music, sport, consumers of a specific product), origin (from the same city, country or neighboorhood) or whatever other feature. Like in a group of friends or gang, this reinforces participants as a group and, consequently, leads to a greater dialogue.
However, certain heterogeneity is also necessary. If you recruit very similar participants you run the risk that the group is not dynamic enough, i.e. everyone agrees and no dialogue is generated.If you are testing a product, you might recruit both consumers and non-consumers. If homogeneity guarantees group birth, heterogeneity does its growth. In other words, the different participant´s point of view enrich the dialogue. This is not a banal issue. The existence of “conflict” among participants is a key issue to make the best of a focus group. The point is to come across a debate-provoking variable or “turning point”. It is very clear in policy testing or electoral studies. Whenever a group is composed by both right and left participants, the debate is assured.
Finally, the composition of a focus group is normally organized in a table as bellow. There you can see a number of “homogeneity” and “heterogeneity” variables. In this example, the heterogeneity or turning point (breaking point) comes from the different brand consumption variable, while age and sex would reinforce participants as a group.